LARAMIE, Wyoming (Release) – Three faculty members from the University of Wyoming College of Health Sciences received funding through the Equality State Research Network to partner with the Wyoming Life Resource Center (WLRC) in Lander.
Erin Bush, associate professor in the Department of Communication Disorders; Michelle Jarman, Associate Professor at the Wyoming Institute for Disabilities; and Sandy Leotti, assistant professor in the social work department, are the winners.
The WLRC, formerly called Wyoming State Training School, opened in 1912 to provide inpatient care and training to people now diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In the past, state schools like the WLRC became prisons in nature, where people were often incarcerated in the institution for decades or for life. Over the years, the WLRC has changed dramatically. In response to the rights of people with disabilities and lobbying that led to deinstitutionalization, long-term residents were reintegrated into communities across Wyoming decades ago.
Today, the WLRC is undergoing another transformation by providing temporary inpatient health services to those with complex and significant needs. The agency’s new role is to fill a void in services for people who do not have access to adequate support in their communities.
“Our research explores the Wyoming Life Resource Center’s long history, from its early decades as a government training school to deinstitutionalization to its current incarnation as a health facility for people with significant disabilities and complex support needs,” said Bush. “By documenting the history of the institution and its current transformation, we want to bring the history of deinstitutionalization to light through archive research and contemporary oral history.”
Bush has been a certified speech therapist for 17 years. She has been doing collaborative and interdisciplinary research with and for people with disabilities for over a decade. As a qualitative researcher, Bush aims to gain a deeper understanding of health and education issues that affect groups of marginalized people.
Leotti’s work takes a critical look at the politics of social work and social affairs. Much of her research and practical experience was aimed at understanding and influencing health inequalities in the lives of people with disabilities.
Jarman brings a social and historical perspective to the project. As a Disability Studies scholarship holder, she has studied and taught the history of institutionalization, specifically the effects of segregation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is interested in the research and educational value of documenting oral histories of deinstitutionalization, especially in the rural border context of Wyoming.
The aim of this project is to partner with not only the WLRC but also former residents, families, community members, and other stakeholders to document a multi-faceted history of the institution and its connections to residents, staff, families, communities, and the state Wyoming. The first approach, which is more archival in nature, tries to understand the institution and its operations, especially before the 1970s.
The second focus, more focused on the years before and after deinstitutionalization, will be to identify individuals from the former state school who are interested in telling oral traditions.
“We use a community-based participatory approach to support our historical research, and we also rely on community participants to identify local and statewide health, disability and social inclusion issues that are relevant to this project,” says Bush .
Through this process there is hope of identifying health and other disparities that have arisen from the process of de-institutionalization and reintegration of communities into rural communities. These disparities can then be specifically addressed in future research. In addition, the development of this partnership will lead to future collaborations that may specifically examine the experiences and implications of rural community reintegration, including gaps in support or services, and its relationship to the health and wellbeing of WLRC residents.
“We are in the early stages of this project, having just completed our first trip to Lander,” says Bush. “We had meetings on partnership directions and stakeholder identification processes. We were given a campus tour of newly constructed buildings and were able to review some archival documents and pictures of the original buildings and the layout of the campus versus the modern design. “
In addition, the three UW lecturers were able to view historical newspapers and other public documents, such as articles about the construction of the infirmary and materials for the 100th anniversary. They met some WLRC staff and gained further insight into this unique history and aspects of the facility’s development. Off-site, the team will continue to research the institution using publicly available records, such as:
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